Editor’s note: Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our April-May issue. Subscribe to Dogster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.
A couple of weeks ago, I hurried out the door with my dogs. I was under a deadline, so our daily jaunt would have to be a short one. As we walked, I tugged on their leashes, imploring them to speed read the latest pee-mail. I needed to get back to the computer!
That’s when it hit me — the crushing wave of dog mom guilt. This was their one chance each day to get out of the house for any length of time. Yet, here I was rushing them along.
Poor puppers, I thought. If I get bored, all I have to do is start up my car and go. But they rely entirely on my husband and me to exercise their bodies and minds. Unfortunately, like so many other dog parents, it’s hard to fit in two-hour daily walks or weekly training sessions into an already busy schedule. So what’s the solution?
As luck would have it, I found myself discussing this recently with one of my clients, Robin Bennett. Robin just happens to be a certified professional dog trainer, author, and consultant. Oh, and she’s also the Chair of the Association for Professional Dog Trainers. In other words, she knows her stuff.
“Like us,” she told me, “dogs need mental and physical stimulation. Boredom and/or excess energy can lead to unwanted behaviors like chewing and barking. And spending time together is good for you, too. It helps you bond with your dog, builds trust, and makes training easier as time goes on.”
Robin acknowledged that finding time can be a challenge. But then she said the magic words: “You only need to devote a few minutes each day for a happier, healthier, engaged dog.”
A few minutes? Sign me up!
If you’re ready to sign up, too, check out these fun, easy, 10-minutes-or-less activities that will help keep your dog young in heart and mind.
1. Mealtime mental gymnastics
Since you have to feed your dog anyway, Robin suggested using it as an opportunity to run through some of the tricks he already knows. Ask him to sit, shake, or spin before putting down the bowl.
2. Will work for food
Speaking of meals, why not add an extra challenge? Studies have shown that most animals, when given the choice, would rather work for their food than have it given to them. Either offer meals in a kibble-dispensing toy like a Kong or scatter it throughout the house (or kitchen or yard) so he has to “hunt” for it.
Low on the dough? Get creative! Food-dispensing toys (and agility equipment) can be made from items around the house. For example, grab three paper or plastic cups and put some kibble under one of them. Move them around each other with your dog watching. He’ll knock over the cup with the kibble. (Note: Some dogs you may have to show.)
3. Change of scenery
Have you ever driven to work and then wondered how you got there? That’s because the path has become so familiar you’ve stopped paying attention. It’s the same for our dogs. If you can only take your pup for a short walk, change up the route. It’ll stimulate his mind by giving him new things to see and smell.
4. Mini massage
Science tells us that when a human pets a dog, the feel-good, bonding hormone oxytocin is released in both of them. So the next time you’re sitting at your desk or on the couch, give your pooch a mini massage. Pay attention to the type of touch he likes best (like light, long strokes, tummy rubs, butt pats, etc.) to keep him coming back for more.
5. Teach quick tricks
Most dogs love being challenged mentally. If you don’t have time to enroll in a training class, there are plenty of easy, fun things you can teach in only a few minutes a day. Go with simple tricks like spin, shake, sit up, stand, down, jump on and off the couch, and walk through legs.
6. Hide and seek
Who doesn’t love a lightning round of hide and seek? Either ask your dog to stay or have someone hold him in place. Hide somewhere in the house and then call his name. When he finds you, praise and reward liberally. This has the added benefit of reinforcing the all-important recall.
Offering your dog mental and physical exercise doesn’t have to cost a lot of time or money. Think of things you’re already doing, and include your dog in those. For example, if you’re watching TV, run your pup through his tricks during the commercials.
Finally, don’t assume your dog is slowing down just because he’s getting older. He might actually be bored. He may not be able to do everything he once could, but he still needs and enjoys challenges.
Since I’ve been doing these activities with my pups, I can already see a difference in their demeanor — and I feel closer to them, too. The dog mom guilt is starting to subside now that I know I can make their lives (and mine) better in just 10 minutes a day!